In Focus

Taking the Mount Mercy Mission to Tanzania

In Focus

Taking the Mount Mercy Mission to Tanzania

students participate in a service-learning trip in Tanzania

A group of 23—including 17 nursing students, two nursing faculty, an alumna, and President Laurie Hamen—participated in a service-learning trip in Tanzania, where they treated 250 patients in a new health center and worked with children in local schools.

By Jessica Gortner

Kellie Lala ’89 with Modest Bayo,
Founder of the Tumaini School

After she first visited Tanzania in 2005 as part of a photo safari, Kellie Lala ’89—a senior account manager for several Cedar Rapids radio stations—fell in love with the people she met. During the tour, her guide, Modest Bayo, shared that he had started a school in his home village—and Lala begged to see it. “It wasn’t on the itinerary, but he agreed to take me if I could find a few people to go,” she says.

Recruiting four others to tag along, Lala got to spend time at the school one afternoon, meeting students, teachers, and Bayo’s wife, Lightness. “Those two hours changed my heart,” she says. “I’ve been all over the world, but Tanzania gripped my heart like no other place. As a salesperson, I knew I could help by coming back and asking people to donate to help this school.”

Since 2006, Lala has raised more than $80,000 for the Tumaini Pre-Primary School and Tumaini Junior School through church fundraisers, selling coupon books, and an annual event in April called Arts for Africa. The donations are used for things like building renovation and expansion, solar water heaters for showers, and new desks and chairs.

“President Laurie Hamen and I were having lunch in late 2016,” says Lala, “and I was talking about my latest fundraising efforts. After listening, she said, ‘Kellie, I’d like our students to go to this school in 2018.’ ” So Hamen sent a few emails to gauge interest. Almost immediately, Anne Hartman, assistant professor of nursing, enthusiastically replied. From there, planning began with less than a year to make it happen.

A group of 23—17 nursing students, two nursing faculty (Hartman and Jodee Reed, nursing lecturer), Hamen, Lala and a friend (Marge Cepowski), and Sandy Worley, wife of Mount Mercy Board of Trustees Chair Brandt Worley­—headed to Tanzania for 16 days to help the local schools, as well as a new health center in the area called Lake Eyasi Clinic.

“Our goal was to allow the students to immerse themselves in the culture and see what it’s like to live in a place so obviously different from here,” says Reed. “We also wanted to raise awareness about the schools and Lake Eyasi Clinic.”

By splitting into groups, the team was able to help at the health center and both schools. At the pre-primary school, Mount Mercy students played games with children, taught them songs, and led other age-appropriate activities. At the junior school, a group of team members remodeled the library. “We removed every book from the shelves, sorted through them, and got rid of books in poor condition. We also reorganized the library and donated several new books we brought with us,” says Reed.

Over at the clinic, word had spread quickly that a U.S. health care team was onsite. When the Mount Mercy group arrived in Tanzania, the clinic had been open for one month, seeing approximately 30 patients. The first day MMU was there, however, nursing students saw 175 patients—many of whom had never seen a physician before.

President Laurie Hamen shows pictures to young students at Tumaini Primary School.

Together with Lake Eyasi community members, President Laurie Hamen and MMU nursing students grind maze, as Modest Bayo, trip leader and Tumaini School founder, looks on during Mount Mercy’s service-learning trip to Tanzania in January.

“In four days, we treated about 250 patients ranging in age from six months to 92 years old,” says Hartman. “Some routine health checks, infection treatments, and diagnosing things like typhoid fever and malaria—diseases you don’t see in the United States. Our group was great at jumping in and doing everything they could possibly do, embracing whatever we threw at them. They were amazing.”

“The people we worked with were in poverty, with little to no health care in the past,” says Maddie Coates ’18. “But they were so content and happy. This was a very humbling realization.”

The students did everything from checking patients in, taking vitals, and drawing labs to helping physicians with assessments and giving injections. Inside the clinic, Hamen, Lala, Cepowski, and Worley spent time painting walls in new clinic areas.

“The people we worked with were in poverty, with little to no health care in the past,” says Maddie Coates ’18. “But they were so content and happy. I remember thinking, ‘These people have way less than I have, and are happier than I might ever be.’ This was a very humbling realization. Understanding that people all around the world are living with much less changes your perspective for the better.”

Eleanor Rizor ’18 agrees, saying she gained experience that many other nurses won’t have until they begin working. “It was incredibly rewarding and definitely something I will always remember.”

MMU students are the first group to volunteer to see patients at the new Lake Eyasi Medical Clinic, which opened in December 2017.

During a group discussion one evening, Rizor talked about a specific little girl she felt a strong connection with. Once she had wireless access, she sent a picture of the child to her family, finding out after she returned home that her mother had also shared the picture with her aunts.

“They all thought the little girl looked like my twin sister when she was young. And she really did!” says Rizor. “This experience taught me how similar we all are, no matter our race or background. I made more real connections on this trip than I often do in the United States, where I can connect instantly with someone through my phone. It made me consider the power of verbal conversation and body language. Something else I will take away from this trip is to look my patients in the eyes to make sure that they know I’m listening.”

At a farewell dinner before heading home, Hamen shared her desire to bring students back to the area soon. “Hearing that made me very happy,” says Lala. “I love sharing Africa with others in our community—taking the mission of the Sisters of Mercy to Tanzania.” ■